Say my (SCA) name.
November 1, 2009 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Members of the SCA, how did you come up with your name?

Recently, after participating in an equestrian event hosted by the SCA in the Kingdom of Caid, I joined the organization a few days ago. What I was not ready for was the choice of "peer" names! Looking at the member's website, it appears these names have some meaning to each person but it's impossible to know how they came up with them.

Hive Mind, if you belong to the SCA or have any special talent at naming things and people could you help a girl out finding hers?

Extra credit - I am a woman who would like to use a male first name.
as in "Lady ______ of Castlebar"
If you have any suggestions or anecdata about women with male first names (personal experience or literary or what have you), I'd be most grateful!
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It would help if you had a specific culture in mind that you wanted this name to be from! As it stands, your question is incredibly vague. Do you want a name close to your legal name? Do you want a name that could easily be modified to fit different cultures, depending on what your historical interest happens to be at the time?

I haven't chosen my SCA name yet -- although I have it narrowed down! -- but here are a couple of superb links I've come across in my search, in case you haven't seen them yet:

SCA College of Arms
: The SCA's official heraldry site gives you all of the guidelines you'll need on what names are acceptable for registration. They also have a ton of lists of names that have already been vetted as appropriate for SCA usage. I would

The Academy of St. Gabriel: Not only a huge resource for period-appropriate names, they have all kinds of articles related to choosing an SCA name and names to avoid. Their database of researched names is searchable, and really very interesting to peruse.

If there's anything I've learned during my brief time involved with the SCA, it's that everyone is very friendly and willing to discuss how they arrived at their particular names. Personally, I am leaning toward some variant of Beatrice, as it's just a name that I've always had a particular love for. Your choice of name doesn't need to be meaningful; just something that you find pleasing, and that you wouldn't mind being called for the duration of your time in the organization. And remember: if your first choice doesn't work out, don't be afraid to change it!

I hope this helped, and good luck in your search!
posted by Maya Cecile at 8:50 AM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you have any idea what time/place you want your persona to be from? If not, go with a generic name. While it's entirely possible to have a German persona with a Spanish name, it's a lot easier to pick the name to 'go with' the persona, or start with a generic name and change it later when your persona solidifies. Picking a name is like picking a starting persona -- it's very personal, and few people will do it the same way.

St Gabriel is a good place to start. This has a lot of information on the entire process of picking a name. There's a lot of SCA newcomer information on this page. (both of the sites I linked to are listed on the SCA newcomers site.)

While you can try a traditionally masculine name for a female, it will be frowned upon. It was, in general, not done in period. You'll spend a lot of time explaining why your parents gave a woman a man's name. You will have to have lots of documentation for it if you ever want to register your name. You could, I suppose, have a usename and an official name, but that seems unnecessarily confusing for a new member.

You will not be "Lady" anything (or "lord") other than by courtesy until you have earned an Award of Arms for service within the SCA.

-- Anastasia Emilianova
posted by jlkr at 10:05 AM on November 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

It always seemed to me that the common wisdom was to kind of decide on a culture for your persona first, then come up with an appropriate name for that culture. And the conventional wisdom for determining a culture is to decide what kind of garb you like.

That being said, in my case I decided I wanted an English persona first. So my name's derivation was Edmund (I tell people it's after Edmund Spenser, but it's really after Blackadder) Herrick (genuinely after the Cavalier poet Robert Herrick). Although as it turns out, Herrick isn't really appropriate for as early a persona as I ended up wanting to play. But I've never registered my name, so it really doesn't matter.

In my limited experience, I've got a lot of friends whose real names I don't know. That will probably be your experience as well if you really play a lot. So my best advice is to choose a name that you can stand. A lot of people will call you by it, and you'll be happier if you don't hate it.
posted by Shohn at 11:36 AM on November 1, 2009

Some people choose names from their genealogy or culture. Others from the culture they are planning to represent. Some people also have names for each persona they represent. Other people aren't so picky. A friend uses Elspeth, and wears everything from Viking to Italian garb! She has a background story to explain why Elspeth is wearing each outfit.

I ended up using a name that had been bestowed on me as a Civil War reenactor. I added my ancestral home, making me Bridget of Somerleyton. Very unique, and not likely to be taken by someone else!

Another important point is the name MUST be provable. My man's nickname is Desdinova. Although it SOUNDS Russian, it is not a proven historical name, and the SCA won't let him use it at this time.

Gaelic names sound good, and you can use a name that sounds quite masculine, but is a woman's name, like Bronwyn.

Definitely choose a name you can answer to! You may end up using it more than you expect!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 1:25 PM on November 1, 2009

Personally, I fell in love with the costume of the 1390's in England. So, naturally, that's where I based my persona.

With that much decided, I needed an English name from that period. I went through some history books, focusing on that period, and discovered names were often composed of (first name) + (patronymic = father's first name). Sometimes the patronymic had "-son" added to the end; thus the modern (and medieval) names Johnson, Jackson, Thompson (Thomas' son), etc. I became Emrys Eustace (technically, my first name is Welsh, not English, but the two cultures had significant interactions).

Of course, there were other ways to form last names: professional names (Baker, Brewer, Chandler), locatives (of Hereford, de Warrell - the "de" is French, but many in England spoke a bit of French), and descriptive epithets (Black - dark-haired or featured, Lang - tall, Cruikshank - crooked leg/lame).

These ideas translate into most other cultures and languages.

What we don't see in medieval names is the modern idea of having more than two names (John Jacob Jinglemeier Smith). Although a very few cultures did use three or more names (Spain, for instance), and middle names became more popular in the late Renaissance, for most of the SCA's period and cultures, two names was absolutely the norm.

My best advice to you is the simplest: don't don't please don't make up a medieval-sounding name. You'll get attached to it; people will learn to call you by it, and then you'll learn that it can't be registered, so you'll have to change it. Don't go that route. Pick real name elements from SCA resources (Academy of St. Gabriel) or history books (which, BTW, do not include historical fiction; there's absolutely no guarantee the "real-seeming" novel's details are actually accurate).

Finally, when you find a name element you like, note where you found it: Karolyn, page 42, Four Gothic Kings. That way, when you want to register your name, you will have the documentation ready. If you started with a real history book, the odds are good that the name will pass without revisions (although even history books sometimes modernize spellings).
posted by IAmBroom at 3:42 PM on November 1, 2009

Also, this by jlkr:
While you can try a traditionally masculine name for a female, it will be frowned upon. It was, in general, not done in period.
is just plain wrong.

Girls were often christened with the name of powerful saints (most of whom were male) to garner their protection, after the plague (which variously struck ~1340-1380 or so).

However, this is a good example of why you should probably use historical references, and not just rely on rumors from other SCA people. Some of us have studied onamastics (the study of naming traditions), and are familiar with the rules & processes of the College of Heralds (which registers names); most of us only know these "facts" secondhand.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:48 PM on November 1, 2009

You've gotten some good advice above. If you stick around in the SCA for any length of time, your SCA name will be what everyone calls you by and knows you as. My husband and I play, and when we were doing the wedding invitation list we kept having conversations like this:

Me: Honey, who are "Bob and Janet Jones"?
Him: Umm... I think that's Sir Alfred and Lady Anne. Do they live in Knoxville?
Me: OH! Yeah, you're right! Thanks. the moral to this story is, find a name that you love that you can document. The heralds of your local group should be able to help you, and you've been given some great links above to other historical resources.

When you are choosing a name, it helps to know roughly the time period and culture you are most interested in. This will help you narrow down your research. I knew I wanted a Florentine persona, so I knew to start looking for name lists and similar documents from Florence (I think the one I used was linked from the St. Gabriel page.)

Also do note that, while you will generally be called "my lady" as a courtesy, any titles (Lady, Honorable Lady, Mistress, Baroness, Countess, Duchess, etc.) are earned through various accomplishments and/or service within the SCA.

Welcome and have fun!
posted by oblique red at 9:19 AM on November 2, 2009

IAmBroom: Girls were often christened with the name of powerful saints (most of whom were male) to garner their protection, after the plague (which variously struck ~1340-1380 or so).

sorry. I was extrapolating from my Slavic and Eastern European research to Western Europe.

How long after the plague did that tradition run, and where? I've not seen much of it in my (admittedly superficial) scans of 15th century Irish naming practices.
posted by jlkr at 9:52 AM on November 2, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for being such a wonderful wealth of information! I will start with the St. Gabriel page and explore from there. Cheers!
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 1:04 PM on November 2, 2009

jlkr: How long after the plague did that tradition run, and where? I've not seen much of it in my (admittedly superficial) scans of 15th century Irish naming practices.

Don't know how long. Just read an article on the rise of saints' names after the plague in Italy; while I'll get the numbers wrong, it was something like Antonio rising from a 2% incidence to a 20% incidence, and the previously most-popular non-saint names took a parallel dive in popularity. This isn't gender-linked data: it was a study of all saints. The tradition of using saints' names of course continues into the present day (Tony, Maria...); don't have the data on how long the M-saints' names for F-babies continued.

Also of interest: quite often the name was only for christening purposes. A girl might be christened George Williams, but forever known as Katherine; the protection of the saint is invoked, without the weirdness in everyday life. From that POV, it wouldn't be terribly useful for the way the SCA uses names.

As for where, I can document it in England, but don't believe it was limited to there. However, Irish naming practices are a world apart! - so I can understand why you'd not seen it. Still, a lesson to be cautious in extrapolating...

posted by IAmBroom at 9:32 PM on November 3, 2009

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